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Wars: From Weapons to Cyberattacks

Alexandra Goman

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Historically war focused on public contests which involve arms, e.g. Gentili’s concept of war. The main goal of such contests is to inflict damage to soldiers of an opposing side. Through this lens, cyberwar may be seen as a contest which perhaps involves certain arms. But it should be noted that these contests are very seldom public, mostly due to attribution problem. Even more, cyberattacks do not kill or wound soldiers; instead they aim to disrupt a property. It is, however, somewhat debatable, because such disruption of a system (like meddling with the nuclear facilities of Iran) may have an effect on both, civilians and combatants in a longer run. However, these secondary consequences are not the primary goal of a cyberattack, thus, there should be a difference between a cyberwar and a war.

The element of war being public is very important, as war is always openly declared. Additionally, an opposing side is given a chance to respond to the enemy by whatever means it deems necessary. In the context of cyberwar, this is more complicated. In case of cyberattacks, it is very difficult to determine the source and the initial attacker (more precisely, an attribution problem which is to be addressed further). Moreover, many attackers prefer to remain silent. This argument is further exacerbated by the lack of evidence. At this date the best example of cyber warfare, going somewhat public, is Stuxnet – not attributed to and officially admitted.

In the end, the attack became public but it was hidden for a year before its discovery. The specialists did notice the Iranian centrifuges malfunctioning[1] but they failed to identify the source of problems. This cyberattack was new because it did not hijack a computer or extort money; it was specifically designed to sabotage an industrial facility, uranium enrichment plant in Natanz.

However, attribution still falls behind. U.S and Israel are believed to launch Stuxnet, however they denied their involvement. Moreover, not any other country as officially admitted that. Based on the previous argument, for war to happen it has to be public. The case of Stuxnet or its similar computer programs does not therefore prove the case of cyberwar.

Moreover, if war is seen as a repeated series of contests and battles, pursued for a common cause and reason (for example, to change the behavior of the adversary), then there should be more attacks than just one. Nothing seems to preclude that one state may attempt launching a series of cyberattacks against an enemy in the future, which consequently be named a war. However, the adversary should be able to respond to the attacks.

Another view argues that the just war tradition[2] can accommodate cyberwar; however there are also some questions to take into consideration. In cyberwar, a cyber tool is just means which is used by military or the government to achieve a certain goal. This fits the just war tradition very well, because the just war tradition does not say much about means used in war. It is more focused on effects and intentions (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online).

The example of cyberweapons and the debate around them prove that they are discussed in the same way as any other evolving technology. If agents, effects, and intentions are identified, cyberwar should supposedly apply to the just war tradition similarly to any other types of war. However, cyber means has unique characteristics: ubiquity, uncontrollability of cyberspace and its growing importance in everyday life. These characteristics make cyberwar more dangerous, and therefore it increases the threat in relation to cyberwar.

Another useful concept of war to which cyber is being applied is the concept of war by the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz. It presents the trinity of war: violence, instrumental role, and political nature (Clausewitz, 1832). Any offensive action which is considered as an act of war has to meet all three elements.

Firstly, any war is violent where the use of force compels the opponent to do the will of the attacker (Ibid., 1). It is lethal and has casualties. Secondly, an act of war has a goal which may be achieved in the end of the war (or failed to achieve in case the attacker is defeated). The end of war, in this sense, happens when the opponent surrenders or cannot sustain any more damage. The third element represents political character. As Clausewitz puts it, “war is a mere continuation of politics by other means” (Ibid., p. 29). A state has a will that it wants to enforce on another (or other) states through the use of force.  When applying this model to cyber, there are some complications.

Cyber activities may be effective without violence and do not need to be instrumental to work. According to Rid, even if they have any political motivation, they are likely to be interested in avoiding attribution for some period of time. That is why, he highlights, cybercrime has been thriving and was more successful that acts of war (Rid, 2012, p.16).  However, in all three aspects, the use of force is essential.

In the case of war, the damage is inflicted through the use of force. It may be a bomb, dropped on the city; or a drone-strike that destroys its target. In any case, the use of force is followed by casualties: buildings destroyed, or people killed. However, in cyberspace the situation is different. The actual use of force in cyberspace is a more complicated notion.

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency (2010). IAEA statement on Iranian Enrichment Announcement. [online] Available at: https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/iaea-statement-iranian-enrichment-announcement [Accessed on 28.12.2017].

[2] Jus bellum iustum (Lat.) – sometimes referred both as “just war tradition” and “just war theory”. Just war theory explains justifications for how and why wars are fought. The historical approach is concerned with historical rules or agreements applied to different wars (e.g. Hague convention). The theory deals with the military ethics and describes the forms that a war may take.  Ethics is divided into two groups: jus ad bellum (the right to go to war) and jus in bello (right conduct of war). (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online). In the text Cook applies cyberwar to the just war tradition, rather than theory. In his belief, “tradition” describes something which evolves as the product of culture (In Ohlin, Govern and Finkelstein, 2015, p. 16).

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Specialist in global security and nuclear disarmament. Excited about international relations, curious about cognitive, psycho- & neuro-linguistics. A complete traveller.

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You haven’t virtualized yet – why you should do so as soon as possible

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keyboard laptop virtualization

Virtualization is not a new thing, it has been around for some time now, and is one of the key ways a business can protect their IT infrastructure and reduce costs.

Opting for cloud vdi (virtual desktop infrastructure), is absolutely the way forward for businesses, but there could be many reasons why you haven’t been able to make the change yet.

Maybe you have not had a good enough network to support externally hosted desktops and applications, or you are a smaller business that is only just beginning to think of moving to a virtual enterprise structure. It could also be that you are suffering from the hangover of an older infrastructure with your own onsite servers and just coming to the end of the asset life time. Either way your next move should be to look at virtualization and here is why.

The savings can be substantial

Without a doubt the biggest reason is the cost savings you will make. Any company or business needs to be fully aware of the bottomline, and while the project to virtualize will need a little investment, long term it will save your business a lot more.

For example, you will no longer need onsite servers. Hardware is expensive to replace, and in order to keep up with technological investment they need to be replaced every few years. They also need to be upgrades, require server engineers to manage them, a specialised location to store them with adequate cooling and they use a lot of electricity. And this is before you even begin to think about the licences for the operating systems and applications.

Increased reliability and security

With security becoming so much more important, especially if you are holding any personal data, you need to be sure that you have adequate security measures in place to protect your IT services. Through application virtualization a data centre via the cloud, you can make sure that those provisions meet exactly what you need.

You can also increase the uptime and availability for your users, through better mirroring and failover provisions. Data centres are geared towards maximum uptime, and even should something go wrong with a server, users will like never even know as the services move over to alternative servers. To create and host this type of infrastructure yourself will require a whole IT department!

Increased productivity for your workforce

By moving to desktop virtualization your employees will be able to access their documentation and applications from almost any device. From mobile devices, tablets, laptops they will be able to do whatever they need, whenever and wherever they need it. For companies operating internationally or with a lot of travel involved this is absolutely vital.

It can also set the scene for flexible working – already proved to make the workforce much more productive. It also means that should a device breakdown, it is simple enough to switch to another.

Management of company devices is also a lot simpler, with setup and deployment happening remotely. All your installations, updates and patches, back ups and virus scans can be controlled centrally. It also means much better management of software assets.

In addition your service provider should be able to provide a whole range of support for your IT teams, with access to many disciplines and expertise to keep you running at your maximum 24 hours a day if needed.

Desktop virtualisation is definitely the way forward for any business. It makes end user environments much more secure. Reliability and uptime is better, which also keeps those end users happy and productive in their own work. No more lost working hours due to broken servers. Approached strategically, this can revolutionise your business and its operations well into the future.

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Concerns and Limitation of Cyber Warfare

Alexandra Goman

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cyberwarfare stuxnet

The discovery of Stuxnet, a malware that targeted a nuclear facility, was somewhat revolutionary and groundbreaking. It targeted ICS which monitor and run industrial facilities. Before that, most of malicious programs were developed to steal information or break-in into financial sector to extort money. Stuxnet went beyond went and targeted high-level facilities. It is not hard to imagine what damage it could have inflicted if the worm were not detected. What is more worrisome, the technology is out. It might not be perfect, but it is definitely a start. Regardless of the intentions behind Stuxnet, a cyber bomb has exploded and everyone knows that cyber capabilities indeed can be developed and mastered.

Therefore, if they can be developed, they will probably be. The final goal of Stuxnet was to affect the physical equipment which was run by specific ICS. It was done in order to manipulate computer programs and make it act as an attacker intended it to act. Such a cyberattack had a particular motivation; sabotage of industrial equipment and destruction could have been one of the goals. So, if they were indeed the goals, it might have been an offensive act, conducted by an interested party, presumably, a state for its political objective. Yet, there are certain limitations when it comes to so-called “cyber weapons” (malware that might be employed for military use or intelligence gathering). 

One of the main concerns of cyber offence is that code may spread uncontrollably to other systems. In terms of another physical weapon, it is like a ballistic missile that anytime can go off-course and inflict damage on unintended targets and/or kill civilians. Cyber offensive technology lacks precision, which is so valued in military. For example, in ICS and SCADA systems one may never know what can backfire because of the complexity of the system.  The lack of precision consequently affects military decisions. When launching a weapon, officers should know its precise capabilities; otherwise, it is too risky and is not worth it. 

In case of Stuxnet, the program started replicating itself and infected computers of many countries. For this moment we do not know if it were planned in that way.  However, provided that that target was Natanz facility, it is unlikely. Symantec Corporation started analyzing the case only with external help; it did not come from Natanz. This exacerbates the case if a country decides to launch an offensive cyberattack.

If the military planning cannot prevent cyber technology to go awry or to go out in the public, it brings more disadvantages than advantages.  Moreover, given a possibility of the code being discovered and broke down to pieces to understand what it does, it may potentially benefit an opposing party (and any other interested party along the way). This is unacceptable in military affairs.

Similarly, when the code is launched and it reaches the target, it can be discovered by an opponent. In comparison to nuclear, when a bomb explodes, it brings damage and destruction, but its technology remains in secret. In case of cyber, it may not be the case, as when a malware/virus is discovered, it can be reverse engineered to patch vulnerability. By studying the code, an enemy would find out the technology/tactics used that could be unfavourable in the long-run for the attacker.

Additionally, it should be said that not every malware is meant to spread by itself. In order to control the spread, vulnerability can be patched, meaning updating the software which had that vulnerability. An anti-malware can also be introduced; this will make the computer system immune to that particular vulnerability. Nonetheless, if the malware spreads uncontrollably, there is nothing much that an attacker can do. It is not possible to seize the attack. In this scenario, an attack may only release information about this certain vulnerability so that someone else can fix it. However, a state is highly unlikely to do so, especially if the damage is extensive. It would not only cost the state diplomatic consequences, but also it might severely impact its reputation.

An AI-enabled cyberattack could perhaps fulfill its potential. That means involvement of artificial intelligence. AI systems could make digital programs more precise, controlling the spread. In contrast, it could also lead to a greater collateral damage, if a system decides to target other facilities that may result in human death. Similar concerns are raised in the area of autonomous weapon systems in regard to the need of leaving decision-making to humans and not to technology. AI technology has a potential to make existing cyberattacks more effective and more efficient (Schaerf, 2018).

Aforementioned concern leads to another and affects the end result. When a certain weapon is employed, it is believed to achieve a certain goal, e.g. to destroy a building. With cyber capabilities, there is no such certainty. In the case of Stuxnet, the malware clearly failed to achieve its end goal, which is to disrupt the activities of the industrial facility.

Alternatively, the true costs of cyberattacks may be uncertain and hard to calculate. If that is so, an attacker faces high level of uncertainty, which may also prevent them from a malicious act (particularly, if nation states are involved). However, the costs and the benefits may always be miscalculated, and an attacker hoping for a better gain may lose much more in the end (e.g. consider Pearl Harbour).

Another concern refers to the code becoming available to the public. If it happens, it can be copied, re-used and/or improved. Similar concerns in regards to proliferation and further collateral damage emerged when Stuxnet code became available online.  An attacker may launch a cyberattack, and if it is discovered, another hacker can reverse engineer the code and use it against another object. Moreover, the code can be copied, improved and specialized to meet the needs of another party. Technology is becoming more complex, and by discovering a malware developed by others, it also takes less time to produce a similar program and/or develop something stronger. (For instance, after Stuxnet, more advanced malwares were discovered – Duqu and Flame).

Furthermore, there are other difficulties with the employment of cyber offensive technology. In order to maximize its result, it should be supported by intelligence. In case of Stuxnet, an offender needed to pinpoint the location of the facility and the potential equipment involved. It has to find zero-days vulnerabilities that are extremely rare and hard to find[1]. Cyber vulnerability is all about data integrity. It should be reliable and accurate. Its security is essential in order to run an industrial infrastructure.

After pinpointing vulnerability, security specialists need to write a specific code, which is capable of bridging through an air-gapped system. In case of Stuxnet, all of abovementioned operations required a certain level of intelligence support and financial capability. These complex tasks involved into development were exactly the reason why Stuxnet was thought to be sponsored and/or initiated by a nation state. If intelligence is lacking, it may not bring a desirable effect. Moreover, if cyber offense is thought to be used in retaliation, malicious programs should be ready to use (as on “high-alert”) in the event of necessity.

Regardless of some advantages of cyber offence (like low costs, anonymity etc), this technology appears to be unlikely for a separate use by military. There is a high level of uncertainty and this stops the army of using technology in offence. Truth is when you have other highly precise weapons, it does not make sense to settle for some unreliable technology that may or may not bring you a wanted result. Yet, other types of cyberattacks like DDoS attacks can give some clear advantages during military operations and give an attacker some good cards in case of a conflict. When such attacks used together with military ground operations, they are much more likely to bring a desired result.


[1] For better understanding, out of twelve million pieces of malware that computer security companies find each year, less than a dozen uses a zero-day exploit.

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Be carefull! It is possible to read someone else’s WhatsApp conversations without getting caught

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Social media came into our lives a few years ago and they are here to stay: Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp are essential applications for many of us nowadays, and we don’t imagine our smartphones lacking any of them. They are useful to communicate in our daily life with our family or coworkers, and they help us to easily catch up on what is happening in our long-distance friends’ lives by simply scrolling down their timelines. And while it is true that social media can be very useful in many cases, it is also true that there are situations where we’d like we could go a little further and use them to investigate. Let’s be honest: at some point, we all have wished we could spy whatsapp to find out what a certain person does –in order to corroborate if what they are telling us is real, or to know what they say about us when they talk to their friends.

Since everyone uses Whatsapp, Instagram or Facebook to have private conversations, it is easy to imagine the different reasons that could lead a person to want to read someone else’s private conversations. In the case of couples, if you think that your partner may be cheating on you, it is probably not enough for you to ask them questions to find out what you want to know, which will make very important for you to figure out what they might be hiding in their phone. Another frequent case are parents who fear for the safety of their adolescent children and want to know who they relate to through social media and what type of content they send and receive to make sure they stay safe from drugs, sexual predators, or bullies .

But the recurring question asked by most of the crowd who are trying to spy on someone else’s social media is: Is it actually possible to hack an smartphone to be able to read their conversations and see their pictures without getting caught? Fortunately for the “spys” –and unfortunately for their target’s privacy, there’s no system that can not be hacked by an experienced hacker. And even if you are not one, hacking WhatsApp without getting caught is now easier than ever with this guide on how to spy on WhatsApp Android.

There some free ways that you can use to spy on someone else’s WhatsApp: from the oldest software capable of intercepting conversations through WiFi, to more rudimentary methods such as scanning the WhatsApp’s QR code from the person whom you want to spy on and opening their session on another device. But the problem with all these methods is that you run the chance of being caught because they always leave a trail. Therefore, it is more advisable to use untraceable methods such as SpySocial, which is 100% undetectable.

The success of their system is based on a lot of hard work, and a very simple concept: you can’t get caught if you are not directly connected to the target’s phone.  The “spionage” is done through their servers, so you don’t even need to be close to the phone you want to spy on. Thus, as the entire system works through third-parties, you can spy on their online activities without there ever being a link between you and their phone. Plus, the company doesn’t keep any access logs at all, so they can’t know who you are – meaning the person you are spying on can’t figure it out either. The only thing you need to know and provide is the target’s phone number. With just this, you’ll have access to their WhatsApp chat messages and images, and you’ll also be able to see their location and cameras in real time, and also have their future WhatsApp calls recorded for you.

Besides WhatsApp, with this tool you can also easily spy on Instagram accounts, Facebook. You’ll have access immediately to their messages, pictures and private stories in Instagram, or to all the information that a Facebook profile can provide: personal information, photos and videos, status updates, Friends list and even watch them use Facebook in real-time. If you are not interested that much on the profile but you’d like to see who they speak to most regularly on Facebook Messenger, you will be able to do so, as well as downloading the photos and videos sent via Facebook Messenger and spying on their Facebook Messenger chats as they happen.

Sounds cool, right? The process is easy: you enter the target’s WhatsApp phone number, Instagram username or their Facebook URL, wait for the Spysocial servers to connect to their device, and then they create a connection package for you. After that, just enter your details, download the associated file install the connection tool… And let the spying begin.

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